Soundbytes (Canada) Review of “Exact Change”

Soundbytes (Canada) Review of “Exact Change”

Jul 09

A Soundbytes CD Review
by Bob MacKenzie, Canada

One definition of folk music might be that it’s the music that emigrants carry with them from their old homelands and that sustains their identity as they become established in their new homes. This may be the definition that best fits the music of Sandy Cash, an American expatriot who has lived half her life in Israel. Certainly, in her publicity, Cash defines herself as “a new voice in folk music” and refers to her listeners as “folk fans.” The songs she sings tell compelling stories and in that sense may also be defined in some loose sense as folk songs. To be accurate, however, the performances of Sandy Cash belong more properly within the realm of American musical theatre.

Cash is an interpreter of songs, and a fine one at that. Only two of the songs on this release were written by Cash. The rest were clearly selected for their sense of story and for the power of their telling. Given the wide variety of material from which she could have chosen, Cash demonstrates a finely honed instinct for excellent writing and for stories certain to move an audience.

Cash has a powerful voice and an evocative, theatrical vocal style. This is not the voice or style we would usually associate with a folk singer. Rather, Cash has the power and broad interpretive style of a Bette Midler or Barbra Streisand or, in earlier years, perhaps Ethel Merman or Martha Rae. This is big, open performance that is as much acting as it is singing.

“Kilkelly” is the song on Exact Change that most has the sound and feel of a folk song. Through a series of letters, Peter Jones’ moving lyric evokes a powerful image of a lifetime in Ireland during the hard times of the Nineteenth Century. The instrumental backing, while full in sound, is pulled back and marches along to a traditional rhythm. Cash imparts a plaintive, mournful sense to the words she sings, bringing the listener a deep-felt sorrow.

David Roth’s “Nine Gold Medals” is an equally moving song in a whole different sense and has a very positive message for each of us as we move through life. This is a song about community and sharing and helping one another through whatever we might face. The writing is powerful and the interpretation Cash gives it could bring tears to many listeners’ eyes.

Like “It’s Hard to be Humble” for sports fans, Roth’s “The Star Spangled Banner and Me” recounts the experience of performing the national anthem before a crowd who could really care less who he is. It’s a very funny story, well written and, as interpreted by Cash, well performed. This is also one of the most theatrical performances on this release.

While the audience applause sounds on Roth’s song seem appropriate to the performance, the dentist drill sound effect on Camille West’s “Root Canal of the Heart” is mostly just irritating, and this very funny song would work just as well without it. I suspect the problem is not that the sound was used but that it’s just too high in the mix.

In the name of the title song, there’s a deeper pun than the one on the name of Sandy Cash. The song plays around the idea that we cannot simply wait for change to happen but must exact it even though there may be costs associated with doing so. Of the two Cash songs on this release, “Exact Change” especially demonstrates that she has a way not just with interpreting the stories of others but also with writing and performing her own.

Exact Change is an interesting artifact: music which is clearly American springing up in the middle east. However, this is music which, in its stories, transcends borders and cultures and resonates not just in the hearts of American expatriots but in anyone who can truly hear its human stories. Sandy Cash has a very special gift, that more than a singer, she is an excellent storyteller.